BRIGHTON — There have been a lot of changes in football over the years aimed at making the sport safer for its players.
A couple of Brighton programs will be part of a research project to help accelerate the process.
“A few years back, I was approached by some staff from the University of Michigan,” Lemons said. He was the coach of Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor at the time. “Since then, a lot of technology has come out from Riddell (a major helmet manufacturer) which has made it easier to expand on it.”
The Brighton varsity players and those on the junior varsity youth program, comprised of fifth- and sixth-graders, will have the option to be part of the program, which is voluntary.
Each helmet of a participating player will be equipped with a helmet impact sensor, which measures the force the helmet is subjected to.
If the force reaches a predetermined threshold, that information is then transmitted to a handheld sideline monitor that alerts medical staff.
“The sensors record the information, and we use the information for a lot of different reasons,” Lemons said. “It tracks the intensity of the hit, the volume of the hit and the number of hits. We’ll be able to find out who got hit and how hard it was, and that will help the medical staff determine what’s wrong.”
The program will begin for varsity players on Aug. 11, the first day of contact in pads, and will run throughout the season.
The program will be run by The Sports Neurology Clinic at The CORE Institute, located in Brighton. Lemons had worked with the clinic when he coached football at Gabriel Richard in Ann Arbor.
“The Brighton High School coaches contacted us because we’ve worked with them in the past, and we have a very good relationship with them,” said Dr. Sean Rose, the clinic’s director. “We both happen to be up here (in Brighton) and I thought working together again would be a good idea.”
The sensors, Lemons said, record the force inside the helmet. They do not diagnose head injuries.
“After an impact that indicates a strong hit, from that point on, the medical staff has an on-field protocol it will use to determine if that player has concussion symptoms or not,” he added. “You’ll be able to tell which individual took the hit and the severity of the hit. The medical staff answers the technical questions.”
Will the sensors, Lemons was asked, make it harder for kids who argue to stay on the field?
“I don’t think they’ll ever stop arguing to stay in,” he said, chuckling. “But at the end of the day, our training is experienced and has dealt with concussions from an athletic standpoint. He’s going to be able to make a solid decision on what’s happening.”
In the past, Lemons said, his staff has been able to use selected information to evaluate how drills are run.
“In seasons past at Father Gabriel Richard, we were able to track the number of hits a player had taken in practice and adjust things in that practice schedule,” he said. “That included the time we spent in a drill and even the type of technique used in the drill. We did that to create a safer environment for both the player making the contact and the one that was receiving it.
“So when I made the transition (to Brighton), we used the same drills,” he continued. “With this new study, I would predict we can use similar information to create even better practice plans and safer environments for the kids.”
The sensors cover the inside of the helmet.
“It’s a film that goes in there,” Rose said. “If you look in it, it’s almost as thin as a sheet of paper.”
“You won’t be able to tell if someone is wearing it,” Lemons said. “They’re practically weightless.”
Varsity layers had the option to sign up during a meeting at the high school early last month, and later at the squad’s team camp at Ohio Northern University.
“I think it’s a good step for the program, because it promotes player safety, and concussions can be serious injuries,” senior Dominic Fiorini said. “They don’t want to mess around with it and take guesses. I’d like to have these sensors and make a better call than (just) a coach saying if I’m good or not.”
“The response has been largely positive,” Lemons said. “(Parents) are excited that we’re doing everything for their sons. Our junior football program, the JV section, has about 55 players, and I believe most opted in. It’s hard to find a negative, but everyone has the option.”